Bless their hearts. The Arkansas legislators. I guess most of them have never known a transgender friend or been close to a kind family with a loved one who is transgender.
I'm luckier than most, I suppose. I'm thinking of some of the faces among approximately 25 transgender persons I've met. One whom I particularly love is a member of my family; another, almost family. Several are clergy. I roomed with one on a mission trip to Africa.
My biggest impression of transgender people: They are just like everybody else, with gifts and talents and annoying traits. Normal. But probably a bit more compassionate and caring for people on the margins because they've lived on the margins. Straight white guys like me really need to meet more people on the margins. They help widen our limited perspectives.
And I've met some transgender children. Of course they've always been around, about 2% of the population, but most of them fly under the radar. They've been attending school, visiting their doctors and playing sports for decades. I don't know why they are suddenly under attack. The governor called it part of a culture war. It's cruel.
Attacking vulnerable, marginalized people is not a legitimate Christian action. Yet the leaders of this legislative attack are mostly Christians. What a shame. I'm sure Jesus is weeping for his children.
I wrote in my previous column about a local family who worked closely with their doctors and their daughter to lovingly help her claim her identity. She took puberty blockers to prevent the development of things like facial hair and deepening voice. These are safe medications that are also reversible. She's now a happy sixth-grade girl.
All relevant major medical organizations disagree with Arkansas' anti-trans laws. Politicians are getting between physicians and patients, interfering with loving families and their children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a longitudinal study of 55 trans people and found that those who received puberty suppression treatment during adolescence had radically improved lives, with "well-being similar to or better than same-age young adults from the general population." Another study of theirs found that kids treated at a young age have a significantly lower risk of self-harm, depression and attempted suicide.
For youth approaching adulthood and for adults, estrogen or testosterone treatment is a more serious decision. Research suggests that access to these treatments typically improves mental health for young people who choose it. Rarely, a youth will later choose to stop treatment. Some report appreciating the trial nonetheless as a way to better understand their gender identity. Genital surgeries for transgender people are not offered before adulthood, except occasionally for the removal of breast tissue for trans men who were not able to obtain puberty blockers.
In a way, I hate to go into these medical concerns, because they seem to be an invasion of the privacy of my trans friends. But I recognize that for the most part, the public, and certainly the Arkansas Legislature, doesn't know much about transgender people.
The most significant thing about trans people is that they are people. Human beings. Just like you and me. They've got challenges that I haven't faced, but they've also learned important lessons through their challenges that I haven't learned.
So, I want to get back to the main thing: The main thing is love. "God is love" (1 John 4:8 & 16). Jesus told us to "love one another" and "love your neighbor as yourself."
My dear legislators, these bills are not acts of love. They are attacks on our neighbors. They are more likely to produce tragedy and death than life and health. They've given Arkansas an ugly black eye.
Maybe you don't know any transgender friends. Maybe they seem strange and scary to you. These bills do seem to be energized by fear. False fear. But "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). I'm told there are 365 verses in Scripture with some version of the command "Fear not."
Don't amplify the culture wars and cancel culture. Reach across the boundaries of your familiarity and get to know your trans neighbors. Listen compassionately to their stories. Feel the love in families who have traveled a challenging path with their beloved children.
My life has been deeply enriched by my LGBTQI+ friends. Seek to understand a soul that is different from your own. I think you'll find the similarities are greater than the differences. And love is in everyone.